Mark This Day!

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I’m ecstatic and genuinely amazed. I mean, I was pretty sure I could do it. Mostly. But then there were those two previous false starts that never made it past the halfway points. Not encouraging. And there were a couple of long periods where I thought every sentence I wrote was absolute garbage. Dark times. And, of course, just about every day I experience at least five minutes where I’m utterly convinced I was absolutely insane to quit my well-paying, work-from-home day-job in order to pursue this non-traditional author-career-path-thing.

Way too many hyphens in that sentence . . . meh, whatever.

But all that’s behind me now, because I did it! It’s actually last Friday that should be marked, because that’s the day I finished my very first novel-length first draft. Coming in at almost exactly 70,000 words, my simple little m/m romance has a beginning, a middle, and most importantly, an end. All written in 21 days.

On day 19, I almost tripped myself up when I had a realization about two of the characters and felt a desperate need to stop and go back to fix it, but I pushed on! And it actually came at a pretty good time because I’ve since made a ton of notes for the revision process, which will be kicking off next week at the earliest. You might be wondering why I’m not jumping into excited revisions immediately. Well, there are a few reasons. Only one of which is related to healthy writing practices.

  1. I spent this past weekend at my parents, where they were hosting a bit of a family reunion, and I always need a few days to recover from that much forced socialization before I feel like myself again.
  2. I want to try to get a little space from the high of finishing my first almost-book so I can hopefully be a bit more objective in the editing phase. (Hint, this is the healthy writing practice one)
  3. This is my last week at my Coordinator job, and it’s proving to be very meeting-heavy and busy. Which is just exhausting on top of my already socialed-out mental state.
  4. I just spent 21 days working a full-time day job, and then writing 70K words in every spare moment of my evenings and weekends. Ergo, I’m really fucking tired.

Instead, I’ve been playing with my character sheets, refining and tightening up details and arcs. Also, playing on Pinterest with “casting,” because I can pretend it’s productive when I look at pretty people and imagine them as my characters making kissy faces at each other. I’ve done this with ALBB and Sinnia & Rafe, too. If you’d like to see how I imagine my characters, behold! I find Pinterest to be incredibly useful for cataloging characters, settings, outfits, and a number of other things. For me, it can sometimes be enough to make me want to get started writing for the day, just looking at a facsimile of my character. Other times, certain images can inspire all new characters or story ideas. So if you are a stranger to Pinterest, I highly recommend checking it out. Right after you crawl out from beneath the rock you’ve obviously been living under.

As for my first draft, I believe I promised details in my last post. So you shall have your details. I don’t think any of the actual writing is ready to be shared quite yet. Even the first scene requires some significant edits, I’m afraid. That might be an interesting post in itself, to go through that scene and take it from first draft to completed final version. I think I might do that. But for now, let’s go more basic than that and look at my creative choices that make up the foundation of the story.

For ease of reference, I’ve settled on a working title of Because You. Not sure I love it, but it’s the best I’ve been able to come up with in the past few days, so I’m going with it. Because You (BeYo) is the first in a 4-book series (theoretically) about the Abernathy brothers. It centers around Ben Abernathy and Graham Rose, and is told from Graham’s 1st-person POV.

First Creative Decision: POV 

Why did I decide to tell this story in 1st person? And why Graham instead of Ben?

Excellent questions, Eskay! These characters and this story came to me a while ago, months before I actually started writing, certainly. In the beginning, I thought I’d tell it from both characters’ POVs, and in first person. This is a pretty standard perspective for the romance genre, sharing the POV between the two romantic leads. First person is less common, though not unheard of. My reasons for wanting to do it that way were mostly superficial and, I admit, even a tad lazy.

One of the things I find frustrating when writing an m/m romance is the constant and possibly confusing use of the “he” pronoun. When writing in third person, you have to get around this by using the character’s names. A lot. Sometimes even more than once in the same sentence depending on what you’re describing. Take the following example from BeYo’s first draft:

“Language, dude! There are innocent children about,” Ben whispered. Loudly. Louder, in fact, than Graham’s dropped f-bomb.

It didn’t stop Ben from taking the spoon Graham offered, though. Or making a pleased noise after his first bite of the ice cream. So Graham decided not to flip the whole cup up into Ben’s falsely indignant face. Even if he deserved it.

In just this short section, Ben’s and Graham’s names are both mentioned three times each. Maybe there is a way I could rewrite this better to reduce that, but this will always be a problem with third person in a story full of scenes between two dudes. In m/f romances at least, the pronouns themselves make it clear by default who you’re referring to. With m/m, it’s just “he” over and over, and the need to clarify which “he” you’re referring to. As a result, I tend to prefer first person for any m/m stories. Here’s the same snippet, as I actually wrote it in my first draft:

“Language, dude! There are innocent children about,” Ben whispered. Loudly. Louder, in fact, than my dropped f-bomb.

It didn’t stop him from taking the offered spoon, though. Or making a pleased noise after his first bite of the ice cream. So I decided not to flip the whole cup up into his falsely indignant face. Even if he deserved it.

To me, the above example just flows so much smoother.

The less lazy reason I chose first-person ties into why I also chose to keep the POV strictly in Graham’s court, despite it being far more popular to share the POV in romance. I wanted it to be Graham’s story. Ben has an arc and is a fully developed character as well, but his is a more surface-level arc that the reader can comprehend through his dialogue and actions. Graham’s arc is a little more complicated and internal. He’s also potentially not as likable up front as Ben is. Graham is not as forthcoming or open, and he has some preconceptions that some readers might find hard to understand if not seen from within his head. By keeping the POV with him, it intensifies the sympathy and loyalty the reader feels with him as a person, even in the moments that he’s less than generous or fair-minded.

It also limits the reader’s knowledge to what Graham knows, which is necessary for the plot. This is the far more practical reason for why I ultimately chose him as the single POV.

Second Creative Decision: Setting

I’ve already talked about this a little, but just to recap, BeYo is set in Austin, TX. The nature of the story, and the Abernathy family background, required an urban setting as opposed to rural. I, personally, hate cities. I grew up near a tiny town in Texas. Like, not even in the tiny town, but on the outskirts of it. That said, since moving out of my childhood home at 18, I’ve only lived in medium- to large-cities ever since. Mostly because I loathe long commutes and sadly there just aren’t universities or office jobs in rural America. This same reasoning applies to BeYo. I had to put them in a city, so the only choice left was which one to pick.

Austin is the city I’m most familiar with, and as a happy benefit, had the right culture to support both Ben’s and Graham’s professions. I could have spent time researching other locations like Seattle or New York, but that felt like an extra, unnecessary step when Austin worked so perfectly in every way. A few city landmarks and locations make appearances that I think add additional depth to the setting, too, and keep it from being too generic. I wouldn’t have been able to do that as effectively with places I hadn’t been myself.

Example: If I had never personally swum in Barton Springs before, perhaps I wouldn’t have enjoyed writing Graham’s experience nearly so much:

Don’t pause. Don’t think about it. I needed the pep talk to keep my feet moving, knowing what waited for me. With a gulp of air and an internal scream of adrenalin, I jumped into the water.

Cold. Cold cold cold cold cold. So fucking cold.

When I popped my head back above the surface, it was with a sharp inhale through teeth clenched to keep from chattering.

“Fuck, that’s cold!” I said aloud. Because the internal litany of howling curses wasn’t stopping any more than the teeth chattering, and at least talking was kind of a distraction from my skin trying to turn inside out in an effort to find warmth. A couple of college girls treading water nearby obviously heard and giggled. Then they squealed when someone opted for a cannonball entry and flung freezing, natural spring water all over them.

A dark head popped up, teeth grit and neck muscles standing out like they were trying to escape their lightly tanned prison. “Oh my god,” Ben gasped. “Regret. So much regret.”

Look a that. You got to read some excerpts after all. And just trying to quickly edit those tiny bits made me aware of how much work is still to come. Rather than feeling discouraged, though, as I thought I might, I’m actually pretty excited about it. I’ve never gone beyond a first draft, because I never finished one. It will be fun to see how it changes, and the possibility of a final manuscript being in reach is a huge motivator.

The fact that I’ll have all the time in the world after this week to focus on it, too, feels pretty freaking good.

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